shanghai music scene: June 2013 Archives
Time for a regular check in with Shanghai's extreme noise collective Noishanghai. Junky, Xu Cheng and their band Torturing Nurse form the core of the scene, which is respected around the world by noise people and has even featured in the Guardian UK newspaper.
It's odd to think the heady days of the Torturing Torturing Nurse show, when they collective drew rock sized crowds to their events, were almost five years ago now. But they are still going strong and here are a couple of shots from their recent tour of Switzerland, Belgium and France - from this gallery.
This month we passed one year since the split of Shanghai band Boys Climbing Ropes. The Last Waltz show was a two night affair on June 1st and 2nd 2012. Coincidentally, the blog was on hiatus at that time so I never wrote anything about it.
BCR were a band on the Shanghai scene that were around for six years. They started as a 'let's do a band' thing for two Canadian college buddies and ended up a significant and beloved force on the scene with equal support from local and ex-pat crowds.
Doubt it? Watch this video from the Shanghai Midi festival: BCR 'Two Dogs'
The band also took a teenage prodigy from small town Jiangxi Province and let her develop into one of the key voices of China independent music: Huang Pei A.K.A. Little Punk.
They retained the same line up the entire time: Jordan Small, Morgan Short, Devin Gallery and Huang Pei. The band put out three releases across the latter four years of their existence: A Pleasure To Be Here, Except For The Darkness and the split Summer And Winter Warfare.
BCR Douban page (info, tracks, pics and videos etc.)
A Little Punk album on Bandcamp (Ahem, yes, one that involved me. Hey, it's free.)
Their success in reaching people was down to the style they developed. Many bands limit themselves strictly to the conventions of a genre and therefor appeal mainly to that genre's specific fans. Other bands, especially those driven by ex-pats, tend to work within a musical area they already love, from previous experiences, regardless of the sounds, feelings and scene of the city they are in - and also apply rigid preconceived notions when dealing with the city around them. Boys Climbing Ropes developed with the China scene, working with the post-punk and synth sounds favoured by the more profound China scene acts and reflecting accurately the modern urban experience. It came across so organically and completely that they were still able to write songs about Canada without breaking the spell, and without losing, for example, Jordan Small's own personal, unique voice.
And the songs were always good. Except For The Darkness saw Little Punk find herself within the band and start to impose her presence on stage too. The first time they played Yuyintang and opened with Little Person was a revelation and from then on every show was a great show and the band's pull went up exponentially. Everyone who saw a show immediately wanted to take a picture of/interview/work with Little Punk. All the band members had settled their own signature sounds and chops. The sets now always closed with Life Knife and resultant mayhem in the pit.
The final year of the band felt like a stay of execution after Jordan Small put back his plans to return to Canada, largely because of the band's sudden jump in success. Rather than go on to put out a triumphant first full album, they settled on three tracks as part of a spilt. Songs like Grow Up Stop Fucking Around were instant hits but seemed to foreshadow the band breaking up and reflect the members' resignation to the fact. The live shows started to reflect this in some weird but moving energy from the crowds. There was a sheen of pre-nostalgia and emptiness, the pits got more and more crazy, sometimes irresponsibly. Time was palpably, desperately, running out.
And then Jordan left, Morgan and Pei Pei went to Beijing and the band was no more, underlining one of the main themes of the band's work: the magnified transient nature of things and our inability to deal with it. I mentioned the band's ability to reach out further to new fans, but for those of us who lived the scene, were present and invested in it emotionally, it was a deep blow.
Going back to the first release, A Pleasure To Be Here, an early indicator of the BCR's eventual direction is Dirty Bots. The signature sounds are emerging and I loved the duet vocal lines. Ironically, they dropped the track live in favour of pushing the new material, and said similar direction. Calculate! was a big hit live and brought out Little Punk's stilted bursts of post-punk energy, so beloved of Ian Curtis fans. Little known to people who didn't get Pleasure, The Night Boy is a showcase of Little Punk's emergent vocal style and haunting qualities.
Musically, the BCR songs are a classic collaboration. The drums and bass lines had consistent styles and tones, drove the tracks, and never overstepped their boundaries. Devin Gallery started out as a rapid ska-punk drummer and in BCR learned to control space and dynamics to serve the new style: although he retained his instincts towards the frenetic at the live shows at times. Morgan's bass sound became recognisable with the distortion and hard picking. If I had to pick a triumphant moment for Jordan it would have to be Whale Song. The track is driven by his signature arpeggiated riffing and heartfelt lyrics and every time I hear him explode on the line "lost out in the ocean," it paralyses me. From Summer and Winter Warfare, Grow Up Stop Fucking Around is the best example of all the elements working together, reflecting the songwriting journey before.
BCR's struggle on a limited and underground scene is to be admired and a lot of attention has rightly fell on Shanghai's DIY ethic and can do attitude. We can look on their output, framed against the limitations of full time jobs, and marvel that it existed at all. But I cannot look back on six years of the band without wondering why we don't have one or maybe two full albums on a label like Maybe Mars or Modern Sky. The work was there, the songs were there. With Little Punk they had a genuine iconic Chinese artist in the line up, who was also known to and respected by all the people involved in the labels and greater scene. It's not easy to explain but I can't help feeling there was a criminal absence of meaningful support from those in the greater China scene with the power to do so. The idea of it being partially related to having a majority of ex-pat members keeps creeping into my mind. But also, assisted or indie, that final release should have been a big one. But perhaps ultimately that dark, sporadic final year will better serve the memory and integrity of the band as time continues to slip through our fingers and out into the uncaring ether.
Shanghai's Goushen 狗神 (lit. Dog God) were formed from the ashes of two bands Androsace and Bigong BiJing and combine the best elements of both.
Mian Mian (pictured) and guitarist Lao Bi bring the early metal and hardcore riffing to Dario and Lenz's power and ear for songwriting. Lenz has kept the punch of her original vocal style and also developed the melodies. They have the essential ingredient for all good bands - memorable songs.
Listen to the new demos here, the first track Poor In Field has it all.
While most heavy bands get caught up in the genre trappings of modern metal/grind/hardcore sounds, Goushen have being steadily gigging and developing their old-school material. I have to admit a love for early Maiden and Black Sabbath et al. but watching a show or hearing those demos should confirm my love for them. Check it out.
This is a typical story, even more so of Shanghai, compared to the Beijing scene.
Local indie band start to break through, have a distinct China scene sound, start to rock live shows ... put out first album ... and then split up or go on hiatus. It's an old familiar topic, but we still all talk about it. The time it takes a student or part time band to get good on the tiny Shanghai scene, is about the same time it takes to run afoul of a break up via one of a few familiar reasons.
This band is Feima and their album is Half City.
The tracks Left and Right and Co-copier stick out for me, because I got into them at the live shows and they exemplify how they are influenced by other Chinese post-punk bands - which is a good thing. My personal favorite though is City Hiding Guide, same reasons I suppose. But, yeah, singer/guitarist Bellows is getting ready to go abroad to study at the end of this summer. It was first reported at Slink Rat here.
Here's a video of The Other playing at Yuyintang. Later tracks were even better but I'd got one and wanted to just enjoy the show. So here you go.
Friday night and it was the next installment of Scottish Mike's four great bands series at Yuyintang. The original line up:
As the gig drew close, it was announced that two more bands would join the line up, both going on late:
M.O.T.O. are over in China touring and added this as an extra show. I should say right now, they didn't get on until around one, I guess, I never made it. I saw the advertised bands and most of Tinderbox.
Heavenly Hazard, for reasons explained between songs, are now a two piece. It led to an interesting turn. Guitarist Leila used an octaver to double up her semi-acoustic and then played all the slap bass parts on it too. The drummer was tight and inventive also. If they embrace this element more and move away from the old material it'll be really original sounding.
Next up were Candy Shop who went through their usual high energy power pop set with signature moves and professionalism. There was a new track in there and also their two big Douban hits from the Chinajoy year, Love Song and Dan Lian Sha. Look at those Douban numbers, look at them.
I was really looking forward to The Other and they didn't disappoint. They think of themselves as a work in progress still and have only recently settled on a set and style but they had everything the budding fan of lofi-postpunk-shitgaze-delaychoked-psychedelia could want. The guitar sound was loud and choppy and they displayed a wide range of material. There were really stripped down short repeaters ... but there were also layered, wonderful sounding hypnotic tracks - especially Space Jam in which Adam used an E-bow to create the swooshing backing loop. At times it was loose with a jammed feel, but it added to the material for me. As you can tell, I was quite taken with it and you may have to not trust me. I'll throw up a video shortly.
Xiao Xin Yi Yi rounded off the main line up with a high energy set of punk/garage rock. The new numbers landed and the track "Titties" was gamely introduced as "(bassist Mike) Bush wrote this ... because he's a misogynist." And then it was on to the extra bands. I saw most of Tinderbox's set before sleep and hunger wore me down. They had a good sound and, like Candy Shop, deliver their guitar pop with enough energy and professionalism to win people over and give a good show, even if sugary pop is not your thing. Singer Renia (小宝) has her act down pat.
Bit of a preface first. I'm aware that this is not the first shop opened here for these type of hobbies. I bought the miniatures I use in D&D games from the hobby shop in the Daning mall in Zhabei a while back and there's a place in Xin Tian Di too. And there's online shopping, but we'll get to that.
Anyway, Games Workshop have a newly opened Shanghai branch. It is entirely focused on its flagship table-top war games Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000 (the sci-fi version). They also have official Citadel tool kits, work stations and paints. The store (misleadingly called the Xu Jia Hui store on the cards) is at 153 Xu Jia Hui Road. That's a block along from the east end of Taikang Road, past Madang Road.
The store is small but cool, the guys who work there, Leon and Caesar are friendly and knowledgeable and they have a game table set up for teaching you stuff and free games. They will also show you how to use the tool kits and paint the miniatures. That's why you should go to the physical store. They even stock White Dwarf Magazine and Warhammer spin off novels. The hard back bible of 40K, the 6th edition rule book is 450 rmb, but they also have the Dark Vengeance starter boxed set. That has the condensed rule book, the quick start guide, miniatures and all the dice and measures for 600 rmb (remember you play with others and split this). [Bane voice] Let the games begin!
(There's a Pudong store too: Exit 6 Science and Tech Museum, store KJ-025)